ATLANTA — I watched games Saturday from the sidelines and then from the couch. It helped me gain a better understanding of the problem facing the College Football Playoff Selection Committee.
These 13 fine people are too far away.
They have too many other things to do.
They are not set up for success.
I watched from 20 yards away in the Georgia Dome as the left side of Alabama's offensive line mauled two WVU defenders at the point of attack—just knocked them to the ground—and second-string running back Derrick Henry ran 19 yards for a touchdown. West Virginia had players down all over the field in the first half Saturday. TV does not capture the physical nature of that.
I watched from 20 yards away as WVU running back Rushel Shell went 14 yards because Bama backup linebacker Reuben Foster and new starting linebacker Reggie Ragland were influenced by a man in motion in the WVU backfield and froze. The play came back opposite the motion, and the flat-footed linebackers were sealed off. Lined up in a nickel defense to combat the spread, the Tide were missing veteran linebacker Trey DePriest (suspended).
Both Henry's run and Shell's were double-digit gains, so they showed up on the stat sheets and the broadcasts. But the view from the ground revealed much more about the differences between the two teams. Alabama was more physical and deeper, which helped explain how the Tide could roll up 538 yards using a scat-back quarterback, a new starter, whose passes were no more than 10 yards down field (run-after-catch effect). The final score was 33-23, but the talent on the two sides, and who was playing and who wasn't, suggested the difference between the teams was much wider.
The committee's view—for most games—is from 20,000 feet, or the 10 feet to their television, or the 10 inches from their noses to their iPad screen, or from the skybox to the field.
"We are not sending committee members to games; they will be watching games on television and watching video replays," said Gina Lehe, Senior Director of Communications and Brand Management for the playoff committee.
They are too far away, too detached, too part-time. They have other jobs. We're talking about a multi-million dollar enterprise, and we have 13 people involved who are all very smart but are not grinding full-time on this endeavor of picking the four best teams in college football. If you are going to pick four teams, you have to have intimate knowledge, especially when it comes to the big decision, which is not "Who's No. 1?" but "Who's No. 4?"
Think back to 2011. Alabama and Oklahoma State were one-loss teams, and one had to be picked to play LSU for the title. The Crimson Tide edged out the Cowboys in the BCS rankings, and everyone outside the SEC footprint howled. I talked to scouts who had seen both teams up close, and they said there was a considerable difference in talent between the teams and Alabama would win by three scores over the Cowboys. Alabama would be the better match for LSU.
The Crimson Tide ended up winning the national title, 21-0, over LSU.
Think back to Oregon in 2012 and 2013. Stanford controlled the offensive line in back-to-back wins over the Ducks, who were being labeled invincible because of the offense. The TV showed the Ducks to be a great team. It's something you have to see up close.
Here is something else, the committee, or most of them, are missing by watching so much replay. They miss the visceral feel of the action. By the time they watch some games, they know what's coming. The "wow" is gone. They have a tape. They've heard about it.
While chairman Jeff Long was watching his Arkansas team wilt in the third quarter at Auburn, he was missing Georgia's Todd Gurley gash Clemson.
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While Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich was watching his Tigers cave against Georgia, he was missing Florida State's uneven performance against Oklahoma State.
While Barry Alvarez, the Wisconsin athletic director, was busy with the Badgers' loss to LSU, FSU was on its way to a win, but without the same ferociousness as 2013.
While Oliver Luck, the West Virginia AD, was watching WVU try to hold off Alabama's vast talent, Ohio State was finally putting away Navy.
There are too many games to watch at once, at least until later in the season when the contenders are thinned out. How do you impress somebody when the shock value has been extracted by "I knew that was coming"?
You have to hand it to Long, though. This is a lot of work for an AD who oversees a $100 million budget. He watches games on TV in his hotel room prior to departure for Hogs' away games, then he is on to mobile devices. Conferences offices send him every game in the form of coach's video, both sideline and end zone views of all plays.
Long, who was a graduate assistant football coach at Michigan under offensive line coach Les Miles, has 20 prime TV games made available to him per week without commercials or time in between plays, according to a member of his staff. Long and other committee members have access to Sports Source Analytics, which is the granular version of the game on the TV.
Here's the problem with not being closer to the action. Anybody see a great team out there the first week? Texas A&M—on one side of the ball. Auburn—on one side of the ball. Florida State—for a quarter.
If there is not a great team, or two great teams, there are going to be some one-loss teams. Maybe not this year, but as schools beef up strength of schedule to build their resume for the CFP and bow to TV, we are going to have one-loss teams galore.
It's why this committee should have been scouts, former NFL GMs, retired coaches in their 50s and 60s who could still travel and work 50-60 hours a week. It would have been a little harder to argue with them over the biggest looming debate in college athletics—who is No. 4, who is No. 5? There is plenty of money to pay for people's time.
It's a little late for this, but I would have called Bill Polian, the former NFL general manager, and asked for some names. Of course, the scouts and former GMs are not part of the college club. Their names were not pushed forward by the National Football Foundation or the Autonomous Five commissioners. I asked selection committee executive director Bill Hancock last year if he would consider the idea and he said no.
I am not going where Dye went, about stacking the committee with coaches and players who have "put their hand in the dirt." Switzer, the former Oklahoma coach, mimicked Dye recently about committee member Condoleezza Rice not being qualified. Switzer probably made the same comments about reporters as he did about Rice. You haven't been there, you know nothin'.
Dr. Rice's analytical skills would embarrass me. Her judgment is off the charts; she won't be swayed by emotion. I would be fine having somebody with her credentials on the committee if she went to enough games, saw more teams in person, stood next to a 6'9" offensive lineman who can't move his feet to block and a 6'4" lineman who can. If she saw it up close, I'm sure Condi could tell me who the better player is.
It's not too late to tell the people on this committee to get out to some Thursday night and Friday night games.
The caretakers of college football have left themselves open to criticism because they chose administrators and people connected to the money game to make sure there is a sharing of the wealth, instead of choosing pure football people, or people not in the "club," who might be more likely to put two SEC teams or two Pac-12 teams in the Final Four.
I'm not questioning the integrity of somebody like Tom Jernstedt. This is questioning the judgment of the College Football Playoff Management Committee and the Autonomous Power Five commissioners.
The big takeaway here is that this committee chosen by politics is bound to get slammed for prejudice. Then the squawking about who gets left out eventually leads to talk of an eight-team playoff. How about that? We will be a year into a 12-year deal, and already there will be backroom plans being made to get more money from the fans via television with an eight-team playoff under the guise "we have to include more worthy teams."
More teams, more injury risk, more missed class time. Why not squash some of the debate with more time on the sidelines or in the huddle for the 13?
Ray Glier has covered college football and various other sports for 20 years. His work has appeared in USA Today, The New York Times, CNN, The Washington Post and Al Jazeera America. He is the author of How the SEC Became Goliath (Howard/Simon & Schuster, 2013)